Music always sounds better when you play out in the great wide open. These affordable, portable instruments make it easy to strike a chord when you’re sitting around the campfire or out on a mountaintop.
There’s something special about making music around a campfire—everyone gets a front row seat at a concert in the woods, it’s a great way to meet other campers, and there’s no cost of admission. What you do need, though, are instruments that can handle the situation. The following ukuleles, guitars and drums are built for travel and outdoor use and perfect for the occasion.
To say that ukuleles are trending would be an understatement. Extremely portable and durable, they’re on the rise for good reason: They are easy to learn (with some practice, anyone can play an Eddie Vedder tune). A good camping ukulele needs to stay in tune and resist warping and bowing from temperature or humidity fluctuations. Also, it should be affordable. It’s going to get left outside, dropped on rocks, and who knows what else, so don’t go crazy with the price.
Kala: Ukuleles by California brand Kala can be found at most high-end music stores. They’re surprisingly quite affordable—the traditional Satin Mahogany Ukulele starts at $88—and durable. The company’s website also offers a wide selection of the traditonal Hawaiian instrument in all shapes, sizes and prices. kalabrand.co
Gold Tone Banjolele: The eccentirc, four-stinged banjolele combines a banjo body and a fretted neck. Banjoleles are portable and durable. And they bring a unique blend of bluegrass and surf sound to a campfire ensemble. The banjolele is friendly to both airplane travel and unplugged outdoor jamming. goldtonemusicgroup.com/goldtone/instruments/banjolele
Cordoba Ukuleles: With roots firmly planted in the Spanish flamenco and classical guitar styles, Cordoba ukuleles sound as beautiful as they look (and they’re gorgeous—with mahogany wood and satin finish). Taking the same approach to construction and craftsmanship as with its top-end guitars, Cordoba creates ukuleles that sound wistful and deep. These are not the toys you start kids on, but concert-worthy instruments that require a little more care than most ukuleles. cordobaguitars.com/ukuleles/
Mitsuba Ukuleles: Targeting the true ukulele aficionado, Mitsuba is a boutique ukulele builder based in Hawaii that earns extra points for authenticity. Mitsuba Ukuleles are lovely, made from Koa wood harvested locally on Oahu, and give that distinctive sound of the instrument’s home. They are hard to find, however. mitsubagakkihawaii.wordpress.com
Guitars are the quintessential travel instrument. Whether you are strumming Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” or Jack Johnson’s “Banana Pancakes,” the acoustic guitar is the anchor of any campground jam. And guitars are perfect for travel: durable ( plywood rules over sensitive single-ply special wood tops), surprisingly affordable (a new entry-level Fender FA-100 costs just $180) and they can be quite portable (each of the following guitars is either miniature in size or breaks down and can be worn as a backpack).
Furch Guitars: The Little Jane ($1,499) features a folding neck that fits into a case the size of a backpack. It’s crafted as a high-end instrument in every way, staying in tune even after it has been broken down and reassembled. furchguitars.com
Traveler Guitar: Traveler Guitar has made a name for itself in the portable guitar scene with a truly durable build, full-scale neck and on-board electronics for easy tuning and tone-dialing (as well as headphone listening). travelerguitar.com
Ortega Guitars: Launched several years ago, these instruments with silicone strings were a novelty product that few took seriously. The Lizzy BS-GB shows what a 30-year-old company can do with a four-string ukebass. The tone of the strings is deep and full and the silicone is easy on the fingers, meaning long jam sessions are a little less punishing. ortegaguitars.com
Tonewood Amplifier: This gizmo ($249) mounts to the back of a guitar (leaving no residue and requiring no mounting strips or hardware) and takes advantage of the natural acoustic resonance of the guitar body to amplify music. It would be especially useful with an acoustic bass guitar, which can have a tough time matching the volume of a six-string around the campfire. tonewoodamp.com
All too often overlooked in camping and travel kits, percussion instruments truly bring the vibe of sharing to any gathering around a campfire or cabin. Not everyone can play a string instrument, but just about anyone can tap along on a small drumhead or keep time with a tambourine. The same rules for travel-ability apply here: Metal or plywood constructions are best for durability, while synthetic heads and materials minimize the impact of the heat and humidity instruments can encounter outdoors.
Hapi Drum: The steel-tongue Hapi Drum is beautifully resonant—think Buddhist Bronze Bowl meets Kalimba thumb piano. These drums are almost indestructible and come in a variety of sizes and keys. hapidrum.co
Remo: Remo’s Sound Shapes Shape Packs can get five people (kids included) jamming along with the most accomplished of musicians. The five different drum heads are quite literally made to take a beating. remo.com